Concern is mounting in the United States over growing assaults against religious and ethnic minorities in Afghanistan. And the State Department is worried that women’s rights and human rights have deteriorated sharply since the Taliban returned to power following the departure of U.S. troops from the strife-torn country in August 2021.
In a special briefing to the media last month, Rina Amiri, a U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights, said Washington is very concerned about the escalating attacks against minority Hindus and Sikhs as well as members of the country’s ethnic Hazara community.
Amiri referred to a June 18 attack by Islamic State gunmen on the Gurdwara Karte Parwan, a Sikh temple in Kabul, in which one person was killed and seven wounded. It was the latest in a string of attacks on minority faiths that has prompted hundreds of Sikhs and Hindus to flee the country in recent months.
In a June 20 Twitter message expressing deep concern over the attack on the Sikh temple, Amiri said Afghanistan’s “rich diversity is its greatest treasure” and that a “threat against one group is a threat to the identity of Afghanistan as a whole.”
Amiri said in her June 23 media briefing, “if they [the Taliban] want to be seen as governing the country, they have to protect all Afghans, and particularly religious and ethnic minorities... This is something that I raised with the Taliban.” They told her that ISIS-K is targeting these communities because they see them as particularly soft targets—people who are easily accessible and relatively unprotected. “We are engaging with these communities to identify more specifically what we can be demanding to protect their rights.”
Amiri said she had “mixed thoughts” about the desire of many Afghan Hindus and Sikhs to relocate to India.
“On the one hand, it’s crucial to maintain Afghanistan’s ethnic and religious diversity and to not give in to those that are bent on … stripping the country of these ethnic and religious minorities,” said Amiri. “But at the same time, I’m very sympathetic to these groups.”
She said that the State Department is also “very disturbed [over] what we see as a consistent negative trajectory on the situation of women’s rights and human rights in Afghanistan” and they have “diminishing confidence that the Taliban is going to turn around.”
In response to a question from a journalist on whether the U.S. foresees a technological solution to the lack of educational opportunities for Afghan girls and women under the Taliban’s theocratic rule, Amiri said her office is exploring ways to educate them through low-tech methods as well as via satellite, in light of the fact that the Taliban “has reneged on girls’ education and don’t seem to be prepared to reverse that decision anytime soon.”
“While we are committed to doing this and are working very hard on this front, at the same time we don’t want to give the Taliban an out,” Amiri said. “We do not want the Taliban to turn around and say, well, girls are being educated through Zoom at home and we don’t need to open schools.”
Amiri said her office is studying various proposals and “trying to identify what can be scaled up.” In addition, discussions are underway “with private sector actors to identify how we can mobilize their support and their efforts.”
Asked if the U.S. blames the Taliban entirely for the plight of Afghan girls and women or if there is “an element of tradition and culture” that contributes to their marginalization, Amiri answered, “what the Taliban are imposing as a national policy is something that does not align with what the majority of our Afghans … subscribe to as to the way they practice Islam, and they don’t see it as a part of Afghan culture. And if you actually look at not just the last 20 years, but if you look since the 1880s, there has been a very indigenous effort within Afghanistan to increase the rights of women and girls.”
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